New architectural designs bring new challenges for fire safety: Masagos

SINGAPORE - As Singapore considers building more underground facilities, fire safety experts are realising a need to develop solutions for subterranean fire outbreaks.

"We have begun to explore the use of subterranean spaces to maximise the use of our limited land resources," said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Wednesday. "Fire safety and emergency management are critical for a compact and densely populated country like Singapore."

Mr Masagos was speaking at the second Fire Safety Asia Conference held at Singapore Expo Hall. The conference, which is jointly organised by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council is held in conjunction with the Fire and Disaster Asia exhibition.

Architectural ingenuities, such as the underground hydrocarbon storage facility Jurong Rock Caverns which opened last week, bring with them new fire safety challenges for Singapore, Mr Masagos said. Other subterranean projects currently on the drawing board include the Bidadari underground bus interchange and the Underground Science City in Kent Ridge.

He added that city planners will need to work closely with professionals and designers to incorporate fire safety elements into early stages of architectural and landscape designs.

"In underground situations, it is more difficult for fire-fighters and evacuees to spot the fire source, and smoke tends to be trapped in such fires, compared to above ground ones," said Professor Tan Kang Hai, director at the MINDEF-NTU Protective Technology Research Centre. "Fire-fighting and evacuation can be challenging operations due to poor visibility and limited access."

However, SCDF said that all its firefighters are trained to fight fires in underground facilities, such as in complex underground spaces. It is also leveraging on techological solutions to help in frontline operations, such as the recent acquisition of the Unmanned Fire-fighting Machines.

A total of 35 industry players, mostly local agencies, showcased their innovations at the three-day event, ranging from fire-fighting gear to aircraft fire-fighting and rescue vehicles. The exhibition also features the Sutphen SAI 110, a 13-metre long fire truck said to be the leader in flow capacity and elevation for industrial fire-fighting.

"It is a very challenging environment for firefighters these days," said Simon Tan, chief executive of Hexcel Solutions, a training simulator developer. "We need to keep developing new and more realistic conditions to better prepare our firefighters to train in."

On Wednesday night, SCDF also presented five awards at a dinner at Marina Bay Sands, recognising organisations that have adopted high standards for fire safety design.